The film is a modern-day version of the Rasputin story; the major characters have the same first names as Rasputin and the Romanov royal family, and their family name ‘Rast’ is simply ‘Tsar’ backwards.
Simon Wincer and Everett De Roche had previously collaborated on Snapshot but were not happy with the film since it was made so hurriedly. They decided to make another film. They did a treatment and Antony I. Ginnane became involved as producer. The script was written with David Bowie (The Man Who Fell to Earth); The Hunger) in mind for the lead role but the filmmakers got “cold feet” at the last minute and cast Robert Powell . The original choice for the role of the senator was Orson Welles but he wanted $80,000 a week for two weeks.
An up-and-coming senator, Nick Rast, has a young son who is terminally ill with leukaemia. A mysterious faith healer, Gregory Wolfe, appears and seems to cure the boy. Rast’s wife Sandy falls in love with Wolfe, but the powerful interests behind Rast’s career, represented by geriatric monster Doc Wheelan are less happy with events…
“Part of the golden era of Australian genre films alongside other offerings like Thirst, Harlequin may be the most surreal of them all, particularly in the climax involving a fantastic disco harlequin outfit and indoor lightning bolts. Also bear in mind that the film’s PG rating was given at a time when you could still get away with some flashes of nudity and blood, which this film manages to slip by where you least expect it. Of course, it’s really Robert Powell‘s show all the way, and the actor … manages to deliver a suitably gripping performance thanks to his piercing eyes and peculiar line delivery.” Mondo Digital
“There’s also an alarming message for viewers in the films climax, I don’t want to give it away but it’s certainly as relevant and frightening now as it was back in 1980. Harlequin is quite the gem, it’s engrossing, well acted, well directed and well photographed, it’s let down by a few ‘signs of the time’ in regards to the not so special effects work, but other than that there is very little to the film that I can see spoiling the viewing experience. Definitely a great film to settle down with on a Sunday evening with a nice cold beer.” Phill Escott, Welcome to the Deuce